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Food Marketing To Kids: Free Speech Or Fair Suggestions?

A group of legal scholars responds to the food industry's claim of free speech infringement by stating no rules were actually enforced.

Suggestions For The Food Industry

A group of 36 legal scholars came together to publish an open letter to food businesses who challenged that guidelines suggesting marketing to children were against the First Amendment.

What does that mean exactly?

The governmental collaboration including the FDA, CDC, FTC and USDA called the Interagency Working Group on Food Marketed to Children (or IWG) released voluntary guidelines on how food businesses should market in regards to children.

Given concerns about childhood obesity, these guidelines would simply suggest — not mandate — how businesses could improve their marketing.

Food Industry Fires Back

The mere suggestion of how food companies could market to children was enough for them to cry foul. They formed the lobbying group, “Sensible Food Policy Coalition,” in response, and with the help of lawyers, drew up white papers stating the suggestions were a violation of the First Amendment right to free speech.

Here’s where the 36 legal scholars come in — they released their response, stating that no First Amendment rights were violated:

The Free Speech Clause applies only to government mandates restricting or compelling private speech. The draft nutrition principles, which are designed “to guide industry self-regulatory efforts,” do not restrain or compel anyone’s speech. They are not, in fact, government regulation at all. Instead, they are the speech of the government itself.

Professor of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health at NYU Marion Nestle argues the guidelines didn’t go far enough in the first place, and marketing to children is “unethical.”

Read More:

  • Legal Scholars Fight the Food Industry’s Marketing to Children (The Atlantic)
  • Proposal on Food Marketing to Kids Doesn’t Violate the First Amendment, Legal Scholars Say (Public Health Law & Policy)
Liz Leslie

Liz Leslie is a journalist based in Chicago. When she's not writing about food, she's likely eating food. Or dreaming about food.

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